Tag archives: International Religious Liberty

Nigeria’s Christians and their Endless Persecution

by Lela Gilbert

May 11, 2020

Christians murdered in Nigeria. Attacks on Christian villages across Nigeria. And, just this week, a Nigerian Christian leader, his wife and children shot. Across the past decade, how many times has West Africa’s largest nation been the subject of Christian persecution reports?

And today the country’s tragedy is going from bad to worse. 

In recent weeks, those of us at Family Research Council who focus on international religious freedom have written about Nigerian bloodshed in articles, discussed the country’s woes in radio interviews, and spoken at length with distressed activists. Violent attacks on homes, churches, and schools never seem to diminish. In fact, we’ve learned that more than a few concerned observers believe that Nigeria is on the verge of a Christian genocide.

In recent months the tempo of attacks on Nigeria’s believers has accelerated. It’s true that such activity is rarely reported in mainstream news broadcasts or in legacy newspapers. However, accounts of murdered, maimed, or kidnapped Nigerian Christians are increasingly headlined in religious freedom publications and on Christian websites.

Generally these stories involve rural villages with mostly Christian populations. And the reports are often much the same: well-armed jihadis suddenly appear in the dead of night. They attack house after house, breaking down doors, shouting allahu akbar. They shoot the elderly and able-bodied men. They rape, mutilate, and murder women. They kidnap young boys and girls. They torch houses, schools, and churches. They leave a handful of horrified survivors.

Over the past couple of weeks, new reports have appeared. They have usually involved victims without identities—unknown rural villagers. But on Thursday May 7, we heard from Lord David Alton, an Anglican friend in England, that one of their church’s clergymen and his family had been attacked.

Surprisingly, the grateful survivor told the story himself.

Yes, I was shot in the head, but the bullet didn’t enter. It’s a miracle,” said Rev. Canon Bayo Famonure, who is often called Uncle Bayo by his many friends at Messiah College in Nigeria’s troubled Plateau State. Canon Famonure went on to say that he was also grateful that bullets in his lower extremities had not broken any bones.
 
The three terrorists that attacked the family were Fulani jihadis—so-called “herdsmen”—armed with AK-47s and machetes. After targeting Canon Famonure, they also shot his wife Naomi in the back and his two children in the feet. The bullet that struck the clergyman’s wife barely missed her spinal cord and lodged in her back, but following emergency surgery she was on the mend. In fact, quite miraculously, so was the entire family. But the trauma will not soon be forgotten.

Nigeria’s Christians, who make up around half of the country’s population, are exhausted and distressed by their endless ordeal. They and their neighbors are also infuriated by the state and federal governments’ inability or, worse, unwillingness to defend them. After reporting on the murderous attack on Canon Famonure and his family, a local news source ended its report with a few words of poignant reflection.

Hapless residents are butchered in their sleep, their houses set ablaze and farmlands destroyed….and the government calls for calm. For many…it’s a miracle to go to bed at night and wake up at the break of dawn.”

When we pray, let’s remember to pray for Nigeria and her brutally mistreated Christians. Although many miles away, those believers belong to our spiritual family.

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items (Week of May 3)

by Family Research Council

May 8, 2020

Here are “The 7” trending items at Family Research Council over the past seven days:

1. Washington Update: “Coronavirus Deception: Made in China”

Most Americans know exactly who is at fault for the coronavirus pandemic, and GOP Senators are introducing legislation to hold China accountable.

2. Washington Update: “California: You Win Some, You Newsom”

Good news in California: Their controlling Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has decided to “allow” residents to watch the sunsets!

3. Washington Update: “Abortion Dealers Sweep Truth under the Drug”

Planned Parenthood cares about one thing: financial profit. For them, chemical abortions are a great way to make a fast buck. Many women believe the abortion pill will be the easy way out, but they are wrong.

4. Blog: “Christians Met in a Private Chinese Home. Dozens of Officers Shut it Down.”

A small group of Christians, singing hymns in a private home, was all it took for the Chinese state security police to raid the house and arrest the neighbors who tried to film the incident.

5. Blog: “Margaret Sanger and the Racist Roots of Planned Parenthood”

Sanger opened her clinics in largely minority neighborhoods because she believed immigrants and the working class were inferior and needed their population controlled. This trend continues today where almost 80 percent of Planned Parenthood facilities are located in minority neighborhoods.

6. Washington Watch: Andrew McCarthy responds to new proof that the FBI tried to frame General Flynn

Andy McCarthy, Senior Fellow at National Review Institute, joined Sarah Perry on Washington Watch to discuss bombshell documents proving the FBI schemed to set up National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

7. Washington Watch: Sen. Lindsey Graham says if America doesn’t ‘make it sting,’ China will never change its behavior

Lindsey Graham, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, joined Tony Perkins to discuss holding China accountable for the coronavirus.

For more from FRC, visit our website at frc.org, our blog at frcblog.org, our Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. Get the latest on what FRC is saying about the current issues of the day that impact the state of faith, family, and freedom, both domestically and abroad. Check out “The 7” at the end of every week to get our highlights of the week’s trending items. Have a great weekend!

For its Most Filthy and Dangerous Jobs, Pakistan Prefers Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

May 7, 2020

In Pakistan’s largest cities, an army of sewage cleaners plunges clogged sewers by hand, often surrounded by cockroaches and without the protection of gloves or masks. The work is essential to maintaining Pakistan’s shoddy sewage system. But it is also highly dangerous, and sometimes costs workers their lives. For sewage cleaning positions, the most hazardous and filthy of jobs, local governments prefer to hire Christians. Last July, one Pakistani newspaper advertisement was so obvious as to say that only Christians need apply for jobs as sewer cleaners.

I have seen death from very near,” Pakistani street sweeper Michael Sadiq told the New York Times. He described how his friend had died after getting swept away by “putrid black water” in the sewers.

Most Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan are descendants of lower-caste Hindus, who converted to Christianity by the thousands. The discriminatory legacy of the former Indian caste system haunts them to this day. Often derogatorily called “chuhras” by fellow Pakistanis, these lower-caste Christians are considered “untouchables” or “unclean.”

As some of the poorest people in Pakistan, Christians have limited options for work. They have high illiteracy rates and are often resigned to menial jobs as farmhands, sanitation workers, or street sweepers. But these jobs carry stigmas of their own, reinforcing cultural discrimination against them. According to International Christian Concern, at least 80 percent of Pakistan’s street sweepers, janitors, and sewer workers are Christians.

Street sweeping, like sewage cleaning, is a dangerous job thought to be too demeaning for Muslims. Last month, one Catholic street sweeper in Gujranwala was killed when he was hit by a police car in the road. The family is likely to face pressure to pardon the driver, as officers tried to compensate by giving the family an equivalent of $620 and hiring the man’s son to replace his father.

Cultural discrimination puts Pakistani Christians in real danger—in more ways than one. The vulnerable place that Christians occupy in society also leaves Christian girls disproportionately susceptible to human trafficking. The marginalization of Christians—and the difficulty they face rising out of poverty—makes them easy targets for foreign traffickers, who sell them as brides in China.

The government of Pakistan ought to address the stigmatization of Christians and ensure that religious minorities receive equal treatment in society. Pakistan’s religious discrimination leaves Christians and others vulnerable to real dangers. Pakistan’s government and culture must foster respect for religious freedom, or conditions for religious minorities will never get better.

Christians Met in a Private Chinese Home. Dozens of Officers Shut it Down.

by Arielle Del Turco

May 6, 2020

On May 3, dozens of local security guards and officers raided Xingguang Church, a Protestant church not registered with the Chinese government. The small group of Christians was singing hymns in a private home in China’s Fujian province when they were interrupted by authorities from the local Ethnic and Religious Bureau. These officers pushed their way into the house without warning and without proper legal documents.

Authorities insisted that the gathering was illegal. When church members started recording the raiding incident on their phones, the officers yelled at them to stop. When the officers saw that neighbors were also filming the incident, they removed the family for recording the raid.

Pastor Yang Xibo told Radio Free Asia, “The state security police came banging at the door, then they kicked it down and dragged those in the way outside the doorway, dragging them to the ground.”

This was not Xingguang Church’s first chaotic raid. Authorities previously raided the church on April 12, and accused the pastor of “violating several articles of the religious regulations.”

China’s regulations for churches are strict. Chinese President Xi Jinping has instituted efforts to “sinicize” Christianity. This means in order to get state approval, churches must amend their teachings to appeal to the values of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). One element of this long-term plan is “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find its similarities with socialism and to discover the “correct understanding” of scripture.

To submit a church to the authority of the state-sanctioned church associations is to submit to the influence of the CCP. Churches that refuse to do so, like Xingguang Church, often face harassment from the government.

Last week’s report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that China raided or closed down hundreds of house churches in 2019. Catholic Bishops who refuse to join the state-affiliated Catholic association faced harassment and detention.

The status of religious freedom is not improving in China. At the end of December, Pastor Wang Yi, who had founded one of China’s largest house churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison—a harsh sentence and a clear indication that China’s assault on religious freedom continues.  

Worshiping in an unsanctioned house church can expose Christians to abuse by the Chinese government. Yet, millions of believers persist in gathering every week. All because they want to worship God as they see fit, even with the risks involved.

To learn more about the status of religious freedom in China, see FRC’s publication, Religious Freedom in China: The History, Current Challenges, and the Proper Response to a Human Rights Crisis.

New Report Reveals Rising Hostility to Religion in China

by Arielle Del Turco

May 4, 2020

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that China keep its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern”—a label the U.S. government gives to the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. USCIRF’s 2020 annual report found China deserving of this title because “religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate” in 2019, noting abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Falun Gong, and other religious groups. USCIRF’s report offers policy recommendations for the U.S. government to address the swift decline of religious freedom in China, and American officials should take these recommendations to heart as religious believers endure persecution in China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) detains an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang facilities the CCP calls “vocational schools” but operate as brainwashing centers. USCIRF noted that former detainees “report that they suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.” It is not just the detained individuals who suffer; their families feel the effects as well. USCIRF’s report noted that almost half a million Muslim children are separated from their parents and left to be raised by the state. Communist party officials are sent to live with and report on other Uyghur families in Xinjiang.

USCIRF also found that Tibetan Buddhists continue to be victims of the CCP’s disdain. Last summer, the CCP displaced up to 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns after destroying their residences. The Commission also highlighted the Chinese government’s strange obsession with interfering in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

By the end of 2019, the CCP proved it has no intention of slowing down—or even hiding—its accelerating religious persecution. Pastor Wang Yi, a well-known house church pastor who had long avoided the state-affiliated church association, was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019. USCIRF reported that several local governments offered money to anyone willing to inform on house churches in their area.

Meanwhile, the decades-long persecution of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners continues. Thousands of Falun Gong adherents were arrested last year alone, and evidence continues to mount that the government is harvesting the organs of political prisoners, including Uyghurs and the Falun Gong.

The Commission’s report also noted that, while the Hong Kong protests were not about religious freedom, many pastors joined the protests against the Chinese government’s encroachment into the semi-autonomous city. Church leaders feared that the extradition bill which sparked the protests “would have undermined their ability to advocate without fear of retaliation.”

Early 2020, which is beyond the reporting period of USCIRF’s report, saw the Chinese government scrambling to deal with the coronavirus. But during this worldwide pandemic, which originated within its borders, the CCP continued its oppression of religious believers largely uninterrupted.

While the rest of the world battled the virus, the CCP continued removing crosses from church buildings across China. In one case, Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing City was vandalized and completely gutted.

The government exploited the pandemic, using it as an excuse to further abuse the Uyghur Muslim minority. In Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, the coronavirus lockdown instituted by the government was particularly intense, enforced suddenly and without warning. Residents did not have time to store food and supplies, leaving many families hungry. Governments reveal their priorities by what they choose to focus on during a crisis. For the Chinese government, religious suppression is a priority.

To address China’s egregious religious freedom violations, USCIRF recommends the U.S. government take several actions. One notable recommendation is to express concern that Beijing will be holding the 2022 Winter Olympic Games while perpetrating grave human rights violations. Significantly, the Commission also calls for the U.S. government to support the Uyghur Forced Labor Act that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the U.S. would assume all products imported from Xinjiang are made with forced labor and thereby ban them unless the company can prove otherwise. The Uyghur Forced Labor Act would be an effective way to address China’s human rights violations because it prevents the government from profiting from their forced labor program, which is suspected of using Uyghur detainees in Xinjiang.

USCIRF’s latest report confirms that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has little tolerance for religion and that holding an allegiance to a higher power than the state can make you a target for government surveillance, intimidation, or arbitrary detention. While China seeks to consolidate global influence, its leaders continue to dig their heels in on their repressive policies toward religion. USCIRF has called upon the U.S. government to address China’s stark religious freedom violations. For the sake of millions of religious believers suffering at the hands of the Chinese government, the U.S. government should embrace USCIRF’s recommendations, and the rest of the world should be inspired to follow suit.

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items Over the Past 7 Days

by Family Research Council

May 1, 2020

Introducing “The 7”! Each week, we’ll share Family Research Council’s top seven trending items over the past seven days.

Here’s this week’s 7 top trending items:

1. Washington Update: “In Iran, a Hotspot of Misery”

Currently in Iran there is an astonishing coronavirus death toll, which is the largest in the Middle East. Amid this COVID-19 crisis, the Iranian government continues to neglect its people, who are already overwhelmed by threats of war and starvation. In addition, they are threatening the world with a military missile launch.

Also, in an interview with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided analysis on Iran’s threats and foreign propaganda efforts to blame the United States for the spread of coronavirus. Go to FRC’s SoundCloud to listen to this important interview.

2. Washington Update: “Govs Get Their Priorities out in the Re-open”

We are at a point in the COVID-19 pandemic where states are beginning to decide whether or not to begin the process of reopening in order to save their economies. After President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force provided guidelines to help states move forward with reopening, some governors are giving their citizens the freedom to decide for themselves what is best for their success and wellbeing.

Also, Dr. Roger Marshall, U.S. Representative for the 1st district of Kansas, talked with Tony Perkins on Washington Watch and shared his thoughts on this issue and about his decision to remain in his district to treat COVID-19 patients while Congress votes to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program.

3. Washington Update: “Virus Brings Unlikely Faith Fellows Together”

The coronavirus has and is producing fear in a time that feels uncertain, but the reality is that life is always uncertain—we are not even promised tomorrow. Given the current climate and circumstance that we all now find ourselves in, it is imperative that we come together to help our loved ones and neighbors, and to keep our eyes open for the light and hope in the darkness. In New York City’s Central Park, an unlikely partnership between one family and one organization formed to help those in need in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Blog: “Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide”

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a terrible historical event that has not received the attention it deserves. On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). It was the beginning of an annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire aimed at killing thousands of Christian Armenians, to eliminate them from society. In a time when Christians are being persecuted around the world, it is important to remember and learn from history.

5. FRC’s “Guidelines for Reopening Your Church”

This week, FRC initiated a poll on Facebook asking our audience, “Is it time for state and local officials to give more freedom to individuals and businesses, trusting them to manage the coronavirus health risks and re-open?” President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force recently announced a three-phase plan with guidelines for states to begin softening restrictions on social distancing. This will enable churches and businesses to begin re-opening. To safely begin this process, FRC put together some best practices and tips for churches and places of worship to consider when crafting reopening plans.

6. Washington Watch: Ken Blackwell Urges Freedom Over Fear When Easing Restrictions

Ken Blackwell, FRC’s Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance, joined Tony Perkins in an interview on Washington Watch to discuss how are states moving to partially reopen and limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy while still avoiding public health risks. Watch the interview on FRC’s YouTube page or listen on SoundCloud.

7. Washington Watch: Tony Perkins Discusses USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report

This week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released their “2020 Annual Report” with recommendations for U.S. policy to improve the state of religious freedom around the world. Tony Perkins, Chair of USCIRF and host of Washington Watch, joined guest host Sarah Perry to discuss the gains and losses to religious freedom as well as apostasy and blasphemy laws in countries around the world.

For more from FRC, visit our website at frc.org, our blog at frcblog.org, our Facebook page, Twitter account, and Instagram account. Get the latest on what FRC is saying about the current issues of the day that impact the state of faith, family and freedom, both domestically and abroad. Check out “The 7” at the end of every week to get our highlights of the week’s trending items. Have a great weekend!

How to Learn More About the Plight of North Koreans

by Arielle Del Turco

May 1, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The challenges faced by North Koreans can be difficult to comprehend. North Korea is a completely isolated country where the government controls its citizens’ access to information, tightly restricts their movements, and forces them to idolize political leaders. It is also very difficult for the rest of the world to attain accurate information about this secretive country. Yet, we do know that North Korea is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights and religious freedom. The fact that 25 million people live under such an oppressive regime is a human problem—one that should concern us all. Therefore, we ought to pay close attention to what is happening in North Korea and raise awareness about what its people endure every day.

In order to make a difference, we must first become informed. Here are some ideas on how you can learn more about the plight of the North Korean people, including Christians.

Listen to the Stories of North Korean Defectors

The best way to learn what life is like inside North Korea is to listen to the stories of those who have lived there. The following are just a few of the many powerful stories of North Korean defectors.

Testimony of Ji Hyeon-a: Family Research Council hosted North Korean defector Ji Hyeon-a to share her story last year. Ji is a Christian who was beaten by North Korean authorities for her faith and experienced a myriad of tragic struggles before making her way to freedom in South Korea.

Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim: Joseph was a young boy during the 1990s famine in North Korea, eventually leading him to beg and steal. He later escaped across the border into China, where he became a Christian, before making his way to the United States. His book paints a vivid picture of life in the hermit kingdom.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy features the stories of six North Koreans from different backgrounds. Well-researched and easy to read, this book is an excellent introduction to life in North Korea and the recent history of the regime.

Do Your Research

In addition to hearing the stories of North Koreans, it is important to understand how the regime abuses its people. Reviewing the following reports will give you a more comprehensive perspective of the evils perpetrated by the Kim family dictators.

UN Human Rights Report: This 2014 United Nations report revealed the many human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime. The horrors include starvation, enslavement, torture, and murder.

USCIRF 2020 Religious Freedom Report: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom develops an annual report on the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, including North Korea. This report is vital to understanding the plight of religious believers in North Korea. It also provides suggestions for how the U.S. government can start to address the regime’s grave religious freedom violations.

Follow Organizations that Support North Korean Defectors

Liberty in North Korea: Liberty in North Korea is an organization that helps North Korean escapees and gives a voice to their stories. Their documentary, The Jangmadang Generation, will change the way you think about the future of North Korea.

Voice of the Martyrs: Voice of the Martyrs raises awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world. Some of their ministry has focused on aiding North Korean Christians in China and giving voice to their stories.

Use Your Knowledge

Learning about the challenges of others is important, but this education should spur us on to engagement. Stay informed and inform others. Pray for the North Korean people and leaders, but also pray about how God might be calling you to act on their behalf. Learning is just the first step to making a difference—the next steps are up to you. 

How You Can Pray for North Korea and its Persecuted Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

April 29, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea. See the first one here.

With rumors swirling about the health of Kim Jong Un and speculation over whether North Korea really has “zero” coronavirus cases as claimed, the world’s attention has once again turned to the most secretive country on earth. This heightened attention should remind us to pray for North Korea’s estimated 300,000 Christians.

North Korea has absolutely no religious freedom. The atheistic regime, which exerts near-total control over all aspects of life, presents many challenges for Christians. They must keep their faith a secret, sometimes even from their own families.

Christians in North Korea are isolated from a faith community. They cannot meet with large groups of fellow believers for worship, for fear of someone informing the regime. Nor can they show any public expression of their faith. Doing so may land them in a labor camp—if they are not killed on the spot. The stakes are exceptionally high: if the government discovers a Christian, the Christian’s family often endures the same punishment.

As Christians, we are obligated to care for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. When the early church was starting to experience persecution, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Although it is difficult for American Christians to imagine the lives of North Korean believers, we should feel a connection to Christians there, as we are all children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). We should empathize with fellow believers who suffer for the faith. One way to do this is through prayer.

Here are three ways you can pray for North Korea and its persecuted Christians: 

1) Pray that God would strengthen the faith of Christians to withstand persecution, and that He would meet their physical needs.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Christians in North Korea are extremely isolated and may even feel pressure to hide their beliefs from their family members. Pray that God would give them the strength to endure difficult circumstances and that He would meet their practical needs. Pray for an end to persecution and to labor and prison camps. Pray that God would soften the hearts of North Korean leaders.

2) Pray for North Korean defectors who cross the border into China.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

When North Korean defectors flee, they most often escape through China, a country with many human rights issues of its own. Defectors—most of whom are female—are often trafficked. If caught by the Chinese government, defectors are usually repatriated back to North Korea and sent to a labor camp. Defectors who return to North Korea after becoming pregnant in China often endure painful forced abortions in the camps.  

Yet, those who escape North Korea are also more likely to hear the gospel in China. Chinese churches and South Korean missionaries that work along the Chinese-North Korean border minister to defectors and even help them escape to South Korea. Pray for successful escapes by North Korean defectors, for their safety while in China, and that they would encounter Christianity as many attempt to continue their journey to South Korea or elsewhere.

3) Pray for the future of North Korea.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

North Koreans have proved to be an industrious people. When their communist government failed them and a famine cost the lives of anywhere from 240,000 to two million people in the mid-1990s, many rejected communist propaganda and started trading and creating products to sell in local markets in order to feed their families. Most of these new capitalists are women, and some say this economic development is starting to change the country from the inside. Though the current North Korean regime is oppressive and its current ruler, Kim Jong Un, is a brutal dictator, North Koreans are capable of forging a bright future if given the chance. We ought to pray they get that chance.

If the rumors of Kim Jong Un’s ill health are true, the future of North Korea is even more uncertain. However, even if the reports come to nothing and the media hype fades, North Korea still deserves our attention. The Kim dynasty has developed one of the most oppressive regimes on earth, and North Koreans must live with that reality regardless of whether their country is featured in international news or not. The movement to advance human rights in North Korea faces monumental challenges. The desperate needs of North Koreans should spur us on to pray without ceasing and advocate for their freedom to the best of our ability.

Ethnic Cleansing by Assimilation: Religious Persecution in China

by Bethany Bachman

April 28, 2020

There is a saying in China: ‘If you are not one of our kind, your heart is toward another side.’ Being different is what is so threatening to the Chinese government.”

These are the words of Jewher Ilham, spoken during a recent event at Family Research Council. Ms. Ilham is the daughter of a well-known Uyghur economist, writer, and academic who was given a life sentence for speaking out about freedom of religion and thought, and for seeking reconciliation between his people and the Han Chinese.

Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic community, the majority of whom live in Xinjiang province. It’s there that some of China’s most blatant abuses of religious liberty are currently taking place.

Eyewitness testimonies, leaked documents, and even Google Earth searches over the past year have all revealed a chilling reality: China has imprisoned at least a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities in detention camps in Xinjiang. Initially, Chinese authorities flatly denied the existence of the camps. But as World Magazine reported, with evidence mounting, the Chinese authorities changed their tune to claim these camps were “vocational training centers for Muslim minorities with terrorist tendencies.”

According to Ms. Ilham, the family members of the missing are told that their loved ones are being “trained to be productive workers.” But she says many of the imprisoned Uyghurs are scholars or doctors who require no such vocational training.

Undercover footage from one of the camps under construction—obtained by a reporter for the website Bitter Winter who was later arrested by Chinese authorities and is still missing—revealed double-locked doors, barred windows fitted with metal screens, and surveillance cameras in every room, including bathrooms.Leaked government documents detail a daily regimen of indoctrination in communist thought, Han Chinese (Mandarin) language lessons, and strictly monitored activities from toileting to daily exercise, which takes place in a yard surrounded by barbed wire. Other documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detail education in basic human interaction and daily living, reflecting a widespread Chinese belief that Uyghurs are “backward.”

Leaked specifications from one camp reveal a facility built to hold detainees for a year at a minimum. The detainees are permitted contact with their families, however this concession seems to have been engineered only to bolster the Chinese characterization of the camps as a benevolent social program. Testimony from ex-inmates reveals the reality: despite a stated goal of health and safety for “students,” ex-detainees relate having seen others die from poor living conditions and a lack of medical treatment. They have also reported experiencing or witnessing torture, beatings, and rape.

Some past incidents of violence provided Beijing with official reasoning for their “anti-terrorism” efforts among Uyghurs, but the methods they use to determine who is to be imprisoned reveal a goal of assimilation, not correction or rehabilitation. Using a massive network of surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology, access to utility and cell phone usage data, and monitoring other odd indicators of “suspicious behavior” such as entering one’s home through the back door, the government has largely used artificial intelligence to produce huge lists of “potential threats.”

According to reporting in Foreign Policy, when detainees complete their indoctrination, they do not return to freedom. Most, if not all, are involuntarily sent to work in sweatshops, even though many are skilled scholars, scientists, or businesspeople. This involuntary labor allows for continued state surveillance and control. Of particular concern for Americans is the mounting evidence that American apparel brands may be benefiting directly from the cheap labor Uyghurs are being forced to supply. The White House has yet to act, but experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies are recommending the Trump administration impose sanctions on companies engaged in human rights abuses.

Despite the state’s efforts to put a benevolent face on “re-education” efforts among Uyghur “students,” it is clear that this “re-education” is actually ideological ethnic cleansing enabled by technology from which there is no escape. President Xi Jinping himself is quoted in leaked documents, saying the government should use the tools of “dictatorship” to rid the region of Islam. Another government document likens the “unhealthy thoughts” of Uyghurs to a virus that must be eradicated.

Christians Come Under Communist Party Scrutiny

The detention camps are a horrifying example of the extremes to which China’s state-run religious persecution will go, but Uyghurs are by no means the only people group targeted by the Chinese Communist Party. As Ms. Ilham relates, Beijing in recent years has increasingly targeted Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong, and even non-religious groups like human rights lawyers. In fact, says Ilham, “China is the number one nation in the world for [numbers of] journalists and lawyers locked up in prison.”

Christians in the West have long been aware of China’s persecution of Christians. In recent years, however, many “unregistered” churches had emerged from secrecy—meeting in public, buying buildings or operating out of leased spaces, and erecting crosses to mark their church homes. Some congregations grew to be quite large, such as prominent house church Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu.

But as the church in China grew, Beijing once again took notice, and the crackdowns began. As International Christian Concern has reported, government forces have toppled crosses, demolished church buildings, arrested and intimidated pastors and church members, pressured landlords to terminate church leases, and installed facial recognition technology inside those church buildings that remain open.

Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi, a former legal scholar, had been outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government and its persecution of Christians. Wang, along with his wife and over 100 other church members, was placed under arrest last year. Most were released soon after, but those who were not natives of Chengdu were sent back to their hometowns. Pastor Wang’s wife was finally released in June of last year, but she remains under house arrest.

Wang, after a closed-door trial, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “operating an illegal business.” According to Bob Fu of ChinaAid, this is the longest prison sentence given to a house church pastor in more than a decade. Pastor Wang remains in good spirits and health, but members of the Early Rain congregation continue to face the loss of their community and fear over future government action, even as they have been forced back underground.

It comes as no surprise that China’s persecution of Christians has spread to include the resources upon which they depend. As World Magazine reported, when users of the popular YouVersion app experienced the program crashing because of China’s firewall technology, three Chinese Christians developed their own Bible reading app called WeDevote. The app grew in popularity until it was the top-ranked Bible app in China.

WeDevote became a source for Bible study resources, reading plans, commentaries, devotionals, and—as the creators were thrilled to discover—an evangelism tool. Trouble began when officials contacted one of the creators and let him know they were monitoring his every move, as well as his wife’s. Authorities threatened to charge the company with creating an illegal app, so the creators elected to shut down and transfer ownership to Hong Kong.

This solved access issues for a time, but the app was recently removed from the Android App Store (operated by Google). It remains available in Apple’s App Store, but most cell phone users in China use Android-based technology.

Many Christians in China recently learned even death cannot end their persecution—as, in some provinces, only secular funerals are now permitted. World News recently reported how, in other areas, strict regulations now dictate who may participate in funerals and how many attendees may read from the Bible or sing. Authorities threaten arrest and, in some cases, have interrupted services and even arrested a family member of the deceased while she was praying.

In late December, Christians received news of yet another crackdown in the form of a nationwide mandate. According to the Catholic News Agency, the 41 articles of this new policy contain new threats to those who dare to pledge their allegiance to Jesus, rather than the Communist Party. Yet millions of believers remain faithful.

When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question of government loyalty, He responded in wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17 ESV). Xi Jinping and the Chinese communist regime do not understand that the hearts and minds of Chinese Christians do not and never will belong to them. Christians have found freedom that transcends earthly circumstances and daily live out Jesus’ admonition: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:38, ESV).

Will We Let Them Stand Alone?

We must not abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ, nor the other vulnerable minorities subjected to oppression and persecution for their beliefs. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right upon which all other freedoms depend. Thankfully, some of our nation’s leaders recognize this right and have taken action in the following ways:

  • The U.S. Congressional Commission on China produced a lengthy report listing four acts that qualify the nation as committing crimes against humanity.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which calls for targeted sanctions against officials in the Chinese Communist Party. The act encourages the U.S. president to condemn China’s persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and call for the closure of the detention camps there.
  • The Commerce Department has blacklisted 28 Chinese surveillance technology companies, barring them from buying technology from the United States without government approval.

As you consider the plight of Christians, Uyghurs, and others experiencing persecution for their beliefs in China, here are a few areas we encourage you to focus your prayers:

  • Pray for protection for Pastor Wang Yi and the rest of the Early Rain Covenant Church community, that they would find new joy and peace in their faith and that God would raise leaders to continue the work of the church.
  • Pray for revival in China and supernatural conversions within the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Pray for comfort for Uyghurs living abroad—according to Jewher Ilham, every Uyghur overseas has between one and ten family members in the detention camps. Pray they would encounter the hope that only Jesus can give.
  • Pray for the leaders of the United States, the international community, and governing bodies, that they would continue calling out injustice and using their influence to affect change for millions of vulnerable people.
  • Pray that the Chinese government will not use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to place additional restrictions on the religious freedom of Christians and other minority groups.

Bethany Bachman is a Contributing Writer at Family Research Council.

North Korea’s Horrifying Human Rights Record

by Lela Gilbert

April 27, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea.

Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un rules over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) with an iron fist. His proudest accomplishment is ownership of a deadly nuclear arsenal. A close second may very well be his horrifying human rights record. The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices features a nearly unbelievable catalog of the Kim regime’s abuses.

Freedom of religion does not exist in North Korea. And the regime is particularly hostile to Christianity. Year after year, Open Doors identifies the secretive “republic” as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians on its annual World Watch List. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2019 report:

…Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment. The government has been known to arrest, torture, imprison, and even execute religious believers and their family members, whether or not they are similarly religious. There are an estimated 80,000–120,000 political prisoners currently languishing in North Korea’s notoriously harsh labor camps, as many as 50,000 of whom may be Christians….

Meanwhile, in a shameful demonstration of 21st century idolatry, North Korea’s regime demands that all spiritual devotion be directed to Kim Jong Un and no one else.

Susanne Scholte, longtime Chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, explains that the required worship of the North Korean leader is a well-organized counterfeit of Christianity, called Juche. And although the North Korean regime denies that it is a religion, it contains religious tenets, holy places, holy days—and unholy practices. 

First, if it is known that you’re a Christian,” she continues, “you will most certainly be tortured and likely executed, or sent to prison camp to suffer a slower death. We know from testimonies that if you even confess that you’ve came in contact with a Christian, you’ll likely be imprisoned.”

According to Ms. Scholte’s research, all this is because Kim Il Song, Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un have set themselves up as gods. Faith in Jesus Christ is perceived as a direct attack on the Kim family.

Right now, the rest of the world is asking a few key questions about North Korea. First, how is Kim Jong Un’s health? Rumors of critical illness and even death are circulating, and not for the first time.

Second, what has been COVID-19’s impact on North Korea? The government has denied its existence in the country. But on April 17, Radio Free Asia reported, “Ruling Party Lecturers Admit COVID-19 is Spreading in North Korea, Contradicting Official Claims.” And on April 22, a New York Times op-ed stated, “There are no cases here, Kim Jong-un’s government claims, while acting as if its survival were at stake.”

Like the coronavirus, DPRK’s nuclear arms are a grave danger to the world. But the political and religious persecution happening inside North Korea are also matters of life and death. Agonizing torture and mass murder are taking place there as we speak. For Christians locked up in the gulag, the threat of annihilation is not a rumor. It is a terrifying reality they face every day.

North Korea’s Christians are members of our spiritual family. And it is high time for us to be interceding for them—for their health, their survival, and their deliverance from despotic abuse.  This week—April 26 through May 2—has been designated as a period of focused prayer for North Korea. And April 28 will be devoted to prayer and fasting.

Will you join us in prayer for North Korea’s Christians?

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